True Worship (B)

• “The truth” in reference to worship: A good example of our misunderstanding of “the truth” is when this phrase is used in reference to worship. Throughout the years we have heard the common and misleading use of “the truth” in order to lay a foundation for a self-righteous system of law-keeping in reference to worship. This system of truth is often based on a misunderstanding of what Jesus said in John 4:23,24:

“But the hour is coming and now is when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth, for the Father seeks such to worship Him. God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship Him in spirit and truth.”

We sincerely want to be “true worshipers.” However, in our zeal to worship God “in truth” we have established a meritorious system of worship that is contrary to the entire theme of both Romans and Galatians, and thus, contrary to the gospel. For example, in order to identify ourselves as “true worshipers,” we often establish a legal system of “true worship” that can be identified by the performance of certain “acts of worship.” In other words, if the acts of this true worship are meritoriously performed every Sunday, then we assure ourselves that we have worshiped God in “truth.” We are even so arrogant to say that those who do not worship according to our legally defined “truth” of systematic acts of worship are not true worshipers.

As the Holy Spirit previously pronounced through Paul that no one can be justified before God through law-keeping, the same principle applies to our worship. But on this matter we have contradicted the Spirit by establishing what we consider to be “the truth” (a system of law) in reference to true worship. If any of the points of this “true worship” are violated or omitted, then it is supposed that one’s worship is not true. We are also quick to judge those who would be so presumptuous as to add to our legally defined system of “true worship.” In believing and behaving in this manner, we have established our own self-righteous worship, and thus have unknowingly denied the grace of God. We forgot that Christians are under grace, not meritorious law-keeping (Rm 6:14).

We have also forgotten that worship pours forth from a heart of thanksgiving and gratitude (2 Co 4:15). When we worship around the Lord’s Supper, remembering God’s love for us spurs us on to love: “For the love of Christ compels us, because we judge that if one died for all, then all died” (2 Co 5:14). John was so strikingly clear on this matter that he proclaimed, “And by this [our love for one another] we will know that we are of the truth [of the gospel], and will assure our heart before Him” (1 Jn 3:19).

When we speak of true worship, it is not a matter of how, but why. We must focus on why we worship before we ask how. If we feel that we have sorted out the “how,” but ignored the “why,” then our worship is empty, void, and often vain. We find ourselves going through worship rituals, and thus feel empty after the “closing prayer.”

• The rise of judges: Unfortunately, our systematic theology on what is considered a legal system of “true worship” has encouraged us to be judges of others in reference to their worship. If others do not worship according to our legally-defined “true worship,” then they are worshiping God in vain. Even on the surface, with a novice study of the grace of God, we can perceive that there is something very wrong with this reasoning.

If one worships God from the heart, then what gives us the right to judge the hearts of others in reference to their worship? The problem is that we have established a systematic legal performance of supposed actions of worship that are fabricated from an arrangement of selected scriptures. Our “true worship” is thus according to our formulated legal statutes of law, and not according to a heart of gratitude in response to the grace of God. In other words, the fact that we have become judges of the worship of others is evidence that we have establish a self-righteous legal system of worship by which we judge the worship of others. We judge the worship of others according to our improvised standard of laws that we have outlined as a definition of “the truth” in reference to worship. We have forgotten that true worship can never be the performance of a set of rules. Cults do this, but not Christians who live in gratitude of the grace of God.

Our legal systematic acts of worship, therefore, encourage us to be judges of the worship of others. But James would shock us into some reality on this matter. He asks every “worship judge,” “There is one lawgiver who is able to save and to destroy. Who are you to judge another?” (Js 4:12). If our legal system of “truth” in reference to worship inspires us to be judges of others in their worship, then our “truth” has made us lawgivers by which we would judge others. If we are honest with ourselves, we will conclude that there is no standard of law that we can use to judge the hearts of people in reference to worship. We can be only fruit inspectors, for by their fruits we will know them (See Mt 7:16,17).

This does not mean, however, that we should not allow the word of God to guard us from following after the doctrines of demons in reference to worship. The word of God is our guard against vain worship. True worship is governed by the word of God. We know God only through His word, and thus we know how He would be worshiped according to His word. Those who have no knowledge of the word of God will fabricate man-made systems of worship. What we are trying to do is to guard ourselves from using the word of God to fabricate a legal system of law that we presume to be the identity of a system of worship that is considered true. But it is simply true that worship cannot be legislated by law.

[Next in series: Jan. 8]

True Worship (A)

We must not believe that we are guarded from teaching another gospel simply because we teach the truth of Jesus’ incarnation, crucifixion, resurrection, ascension and kingdom reign. The problem is that we tag on to these gospel truths our own traditional teachings, methods, or heritage that we confuse with the simplicity of the gospel. In doing this we lead ourselves to believe that our add-ons are also necessary to believe and obey in order to be justified before God. This is particularly true in reference to a legalized ceremony of worship.

What we must keep in mind is that any obsession about obedience to our add-ons in an effort to self-justify or self-sanctify ourselves is an attack against the grace of God that was revealed at the cross. Because most religious people today understand little about the gospel, or at least focus little on the complete gospel, their worship of God has moved into a self-sanctifying experience of emotional experientialism. In other words, the more emotional one becomes during an assigned period of worship, the more sincere the worship is surely to be. This is particularly true in reference to the obsession with “speaking in tongues.” As we explained in Book 44, Experiential Religion vs Word-Based Faith, the modern-day phenomenon is real, but it is not the work of the Holy Spirit (See Biblical Research library, africainternational.org). It is the work of our own spirit when in a state of emotional upheaval. And in some cases, it is a self-sanctifying exercise on the part of the speaker.

Others, on the other hand, have gone to the extreme to create a legalized ceremonial assembly during which prescribed performances are carried out as “acts of worship.” It is believed that when the performances of these acts are all completed, then the supposed worshipers of “true worship” after a “closing prayer,” and then can go on their way, satisfied that they have worshiped God “in spirit and truth.” They have supposedly sanctified themselves for the week, and thus, will return next Sunday in order to renew their to perform another series of self-sanctifying ceremonies before God. Both of the preceding extremes, whether experiential emotionalism or legal orthodoxy, are attacks against the grace of God. Each focuses on the individual “worshiper,” and less on God.

• An inherent denial of grace: In his confrontation with Peter in Antioch, who along with some Jewish Christians who were also not walking straightforward according to the truth of the gospel (Gl 2:14), Paul embedded a principle that must always be kept in mind in reference to our salvation, and particularly our worship. We must remember the following lest we too bring into the body of Christ the law of sin and death, even in the manner by which we worship God:

“Knowing that a man is not justified by works of law, but by the faith of Christ Jesus, even we [Paul and Peter] have believed in Christ Jesus so that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by works of law, for by works of law no flesh will be justified” (Gl 2:16).

There are two very important points in the above statement that reveal our relationship with God. First, the King James Version reads, “Knowing that a man is … justified … by the faith of Jesus Christ.” The Greek word that is translated “by” is dia. This Greek word is commonly translated “through.” This is the translation that is brought out in the American Standard Version: “… through faith in Jesus Christ.” The New King James Version gives a similar rendition, the meaning of which is found in Acts 13:39: “By Him [Jesus Christ] all who believe are justified from all things.” The meaning of all these readings is that the incarnate Son of God, through His commitment (faith) to go to the cross, was the means by which all will be saved who believe in His sacrificial offering. In other words, the measure of His justification through the cross is not determined by our measure of faith in His work of redemption. On the contrary, in reference to our justification all our faith must be placed in Him, not in our own faith. We must believe that the gospel of His atoning sacrifice was true and sincere on His part. Our faith must not be meritorious, and thus cancel His faith to do the will of the Father for us in going to the cross (Lk 22:42).

Second, Paul was abundantly clear as he pressed hard with his feather-pen to paper in order to write, “For by works of law no flesh will be justified.” He made this statement twice in this one verse as if he knew we would have a difficult time understanding the concept. And we do. Nevertheless, taken at face value, no one can be meritoriously justified by perfect law-keeping simply because of what the Holy Spirit stated in Romans 3:23: “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” We kept on sinning against law even after we have been baptized into Christ.

Galatians 2:16 is thus clear. Jesus performed perfectly on the cross in order to justify our lack of performance. We must have absolute faith in His performance in order not to try adding our own performance of either good works, or a supposed perfect keeping of law, in order to subsidize His total and complete performance for our redemption. We must not even be so presumptuous as to offer legal worship to God in order to “please Him.” In doing so, we will actually displease Him because we are marginalizing the offering of His Son whom He gave for our justification. If we seek to justify ourselves through worship law-keeping, then are trying to either add to or subsidize His justification through the performance of our legal acts of worship.

Lest we make the mistake of interpreting Paul’s use of the word “law” in Galatians 2:16 to refer to the Sinai law, he purposely did not use the definite article “the” with the word “law.” It was not “the Sinai law.” It was any law that we might establish as a meritorious system of obedience in order to justify ourselves before God. We could even make the “law of Christ” to be “another gospel” if we construct a systematic doctrine of “the truth” (acts of worship) we must perform meritoriously and perfectly in order to save ourselves. We must keep this in mind when we try to construct some system of “true worship” that is supposedly based on a ceremonial performance of our fabrication of “acts of worship.”

If we deceive ourselves into believing that we can obey perfectly any law we consider to be “the truth,” then we have introduced among ourselves the law of sin and death. We have forgotten that “the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has freed you from the law of sin and death” (Rm 8:2). The point is that we cannot keep perfectly any law, whether the law of Christ, or our own fabrications of law, in order to justify ourselves before God. Therefore, the Holy Spirit had some hard words for those who would introduce sin and death into the church: “If anyone preaches any other gospel to you than what you have received, let him be accursed” (Gl 1:9).

Thankfully, however, our sins in Christ are cleansed by the washing of Jesus’ blood that continues to flow from Calvary (1 Jn 1:7). This is the continuation of grace in our lives. As with Peter, we must walk by faith in this grace and trust that God will save us from ourselves. Our faith is in the grace of God, not in our presumptuous claim that we can keep any system of law perfectly by which we can save ourselves.

Though we would quote Galatians 2:16 to affirm that one cannot establish any legal system of law by which he would justify himself before God, we have done just that in making “the truth” a legal system of law. We have establish a legal system of law that we call “the truth,” and then we are so arrogant as to claim that we have justified ourselves before God because we have obeyed perfectly our legal system of “the truth.” In this way we have inadvertently switch around the phrase “the truth of the gospel.” We now consider it to read “the gospel of the truth.” We have assumed that “the truth” is the good news of a new set of laws that we suppose God would bind on us in order that we justify ourselves before Him. So we have forgotten what the Holy Spirit said: “For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has freed you from the law of sin and death” (Rm 8:2).

We sometimes assume that we are justified by our own meritorious performance of what we have fabricated to be “the truth.” We then assume that we can self-justify ourselves when we are satisfied that we have correctly performed our fabrication. This problem leads us to becoming somewhat self-righteous religionists by throwing away everyone who does not measure up to our fabricated religion of “true worship.”

In our zeal to please God, we become as the Jews who established their own systematic theology of “the truth,” “but not according to knowledge [of the word of God]” (Rm 10:2). The problem with the Jews’ system of religiosity was explained by the Holy Spirit: “For they [the Jews] being ignorant of God’s righteousness and seeking to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted themselves to the righteousness of God” (Rm 10:3). In our own zeal, we also do as the Jews by establishing a system of “the truth” in order to affirm that we are righteousness before God when we meritoriously perform all the statutes of our improvised system of worship laws. We are often so zealous to keep our legal system of our “truth” that we will, as the Jews, lay aside the commandments of God (Mk 7:8).

[Next in series: Jan. 5]

Truth of the Gospel (D)

• Obedient response to grace: We can be assured that we are not alone in our struggle to maintain our commitment to Jesus in the midst of a religious world that has become very religious, but not according to the word of God. Even one of Jesus’ apostles fell into this religious quagmire by falling back into the security of his Jewish heritage. While in Antioch, the apostle Peter was intimidated by some legal religionists who came from Jerusalem with their “Jewish Christianity” (Gl 2:11-13). This entire incident should remind all of us that it is easy to be diverted from the power of the gospel. If Peter could be momentarily led astray, then certainly we ourselves can do the same.

For our benefit, the unfortunate lapse in gospel behavior on the part of the apostle was recorded for posterity in order to remind all of us that we too can slip back into the security of legal religiosity, and thus, forsake the power of the truth of the gospel. This same apostasy on a large scale was occurring in Galatia. Prior to the destruction of Jerusalem, many Jewish Christians en masse were turning back to the Sinai law and the security of their Jewish religious heritage. The entire book of Hebrews was written in order to terminate this flow away from the truth of the gospel. In some ways, too many today find it reassuring to accept everyone as “Christian,” and thus everyone is supposedly accepted by God in the performance of their religiosity. Therefore, we need to take another look at the actions of Peter.

We must reverently read what Paul wrote concerning his encounter with Peter that took place in Antioch: “But when I saw that they [Peter and the other Antioch Jews] were not straightforward about the truth of the gospel, I said to Peter before them all, ‘If you, being a Jew, live like the Gentiles, and not as the Jews, why do you compel the Gentiles to live as the Jews?’” (Gl 2:14). In behaving as he did, Paul said that Peter “stood condemned” (Gl 2:11). This is thus a serious matter because our religious behavior can in fact judge us condemned when we live contrary to the truth of the gospel.

Behavior that is not according to the gospel of grace is simply hypocritical behavior (Gl 2:13). It is hypocritical because one reveals his lack of inner commitment in reference to his faith. He may believe the right things in his head, as Peter who knew the truth of the gospel, but behaved contrary to what grace teaches (See Ti 2:11,14). In reference to his behavior at Antioch, Peter knew better than to behave contrary to what he knew. We would say that in separating himself from the Gentiles because he was intimidated by some Jewish religionists who came from Jerusalem, he was “not straighforward about the truth of the gospel.” He behaved contrary to the nature of the gospel of grace. He thus stood condemned.

In this context, the Holy Spirit introduced the phrase, “the truth of the gospel” in the statement of Galatians 2:16. However, throughout the New Testament, the Spirit commonly used the abbreviated phrase “the truth” to refer to the truth of the gospel. This is significant in reference to understanding the phrase “the truth” as it is used in the New Testament. The Holy Spirit was consistent. He did not change the meaning of “the truth of the gospel” in Galatians when He used the abbreviated term, “the truth,” in other New Testament texts. “The truth,” when read in the epistles, therefore, must first be understood as a reference to “the truth of the gospel,” not to some legal system of religious rules that one would seek to keep in order to self-justify oneself before God.

• The gospel is based on true historical events: In order to be clear we must understand that in Galatians 2:16 “the truth” is defined by the phrase “of the gospel.” Therefore, our understanding of what the gospel is determines our understanding of what the abbreviated phrase “the truth” means in reference to the gospel. And herein many have gone wrong by making the gospel an analytical system of self-justifying religious law. However, in the Galatians context reference was to how Peter behaved, not to what he believed.

Our behavior as a Christian is motivated by our belief that the events of the gospel are true. When in Antioch, Peter had a lapse in behavior, not because he changed his beliefs in reference to the gospel, or that he forgot the historical events of the gospel. It was that his behavior for a moment was not according to what he knew in reference to the truth of Jesus’ incarnational offering, resurrection and kingdom reign. He had not forgotten what he preached on Sunday morning on Pentecost many years before (See At 2:14-36).

In missing this point in reference to Peter’s behavior, some have subsequently brought law in as a definition of the gospel, and thus, brought into the church the law of sin and death. They have forgotten that “the truth” is not our meritorious relationship with some system of law, but a reference to Christ Jesus and the good news of His coming into this world. It is the gospel of Christ Jesus and what He did in this world that delivers us from the law of sin and death. Since this is true, then the phrase “the truth of the gospel” must be believed in order to motivate gospel behavior. Peter for a moment simply fell from the power of the gospel of grace to motivate correct behavior.

If we believe that the gospel is true, then we will act on our belief. This is what Paul wanted to remind the Corinthians. They would remain saved by the gospel on the condition that they continued to “hold fast to that word [by which the gospel was communicated to them] which I preached to you, unless you believed in vain” (1 Co 15:2). If we stop believing that Jesus was crucified, resurrected, and ascended to reign at the right hand of God, then we will lose the motivational power of the gospel.

The gospel can never be a system of law, because law only brings death. It brings spiritual death because no one can keep law perfectly in order to save himself. Law, therefore, can never bring good news, for in the presence of law, we sin. It is then as Paul wrote, “For without law, I was once alive. But when the commandment came, sin revived and I died” (Rm 7:9). Therefore, if we make the gospel a system of law-keeping, then we have introduced sin and death into the body of Christ because we all continue to sin (1 Jn 1:8). This is the other gospel that Paul mentioned was being brought in among the Galatian disciples. It was already in the fellowship of the disciples in Rome (See Gl 1:6-9).

Therefore, we must be careful not to reverse the order of the phrase, “the truth of the gospel.” It is not “the gospel of the truth.” If we believe that the gospel is some system of self-justifying religious law-keeping, then we would be correct to say that it is “the gospel of the truth.” But this is totally contrary to what Jesus said to the Jews in the following statement: “You will know the truth [Me], and the truth [about Me] will make you free” (Jn 8:32). A new legal system of law would not make them free from sin. He would. Therefore Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life” (Jn 14:6). In these two statements Jesus used the phrase “the truth” to refer to Himself and His salvational work as the incarnate Son of God who was going to the cross. The so-called “five steps” to salvation—hear, believe, repent, confess, baptism—are not the gospel. These are simply the responses of those in the book of Acts who believed the work of God through the incarnational journey of His Son from heaven, to earth, to the cross, and then back to His right hand to function as our only mediator between God and man (1 Tm 2:5). We must not confuse the response with the gospel journey of Jesus to which we must respond.

Jesus is the good news about our problem of sin. And thus, the phrase will always read, “the truth of the gospel.” There is no other good news in reference to our salvation. There is no good news in more laws to which we would supposedly conform in a meritorious effort to justify ourselves. On the contrary, the good news is about Jesus and the grace that was revealed through the true events of the incarnational journey of Jesus. He is the good news because through Him the grace of God was revealed. He did not instituted a new law system that was supposedly meant to be our road map to self-justification.

We must not assume that the “other-gospel” teachers in Galatia had forgotten to teach Jesus. They did teach the gospel of Jesus. Unfortunately, they also added self-justifying obedience to certain religious laws to which they assumed one must also conform in order to be saved (See At 15:1). Their teaching of the gospel of the Son of God thus became another gospel because of their addition of meritorious obedience to other religious rites, rituals and ceremonies that they deemed necessary to perform in order for one to be justified before God. And because they made these additions, they brought into the church a law of sin and spiritual death. No one could keep all the laws perfectly, and thus all spiritually died before God who assumed that they were self-justified because of their meritorious law-keeping, or tradition-keeping. They severed themselves from Christ by establishing their own religious system of righteousness (See Rm 10:1-3).

[Next in series: Jan. 2]

Truth of the Gospel (C)

• The truth of the gospel: It is difficult for those who want to walk according to their manufactured system of religion to restore motivation in behavior that is based on the gospel. Sometimes people are more zealous to defend their religious heritage, than the gospel of God’s grace. This is true because it is sometimes easier to fall back on our religious heritage, and the laws or traditions that define such, than to defend our behavior in response to the grace of God. This is especially true when one is doing nothing in his or her life other than sitting on a church pew every Sunday morning. Grace will simply not allow one to be content while settled into the comfort of some church house.

When the early modern-day missionaries went forth to people who were less educated, they often found it easier to prescribe obedience to some simple system of law. In prescribing obedience to an outline of law, it was a simple matter of teaching an outline of what was supposedly necessary to be an obedient child of God. In reference to salvation, and since there were five fingers on one hand—then the “gospel” that was preached was “hear, believe, repent, confess and be baptized.” There were a host of proof texts under each point. And since there were five fingers on the other hand, in order for one to remain faithful to God by worshiping in truth, then all the novice Christians had to do every Sunday morning between an opening and closing prayer was to “sing, preach, pray, serve the Lord Supper, and not forget the contribution.”

All the above supposedly composed “true worship” if legally performed every Sunday. By teaching his five-plus-five religious identity of the church, the church was supposedly established by the obedience of those who were cloned after the “gospel of law-keeping.” Reports were subsequently written back to supporters that there was a new “church” established in the village. There were members of this church who were carrying out the “five-by-five” identifying “marks of the church.” The growth of the church was then determined by how many cloned assemblies were meeting at different locations as autonomous groups.

At the time we were imposing this “form of teaching” on the people, we paid little attention to the incarnation of the Son of God. We forgot to teach the cornerstone concept of what Paul reminded the Philippians, “Let this mind be in you that was also in Christ Jesus . . . “ (You can read the rest in Ph 2:5-8). Paul then carried on with the incarnational journey of the Son of God. Nevertheless, in teaching the subject of the gospel, we spoke of the sacrificial offering of the cross, but we often forgot to focus on the implications of Hebrews 10:5: “A body You have prepared for Me.” At the beginning of the incarnational journey of the Son of God, the Father had to prepare a body on earth in order that the events of the gospel occur (See Jn 1:1,2,14). If we would be disciples of this incarnate Deity, then we too must go through a transformation. We cannot incarnate into flesh and bones, for we are already there. However, we can be transformed in mind (Rm 12:1,2).

The gospel journey of the incarnate Son of God demonstrated God’s love for us (Rm 5:8). Through this journey to the cross, the Son of God demonstrated grace. It is this love and grace that motivates worship (See 2 Cor 4:15; 5:14; 1 Jn 4:19). We can start our journey with Jesus by having love and grace in our own minds and hearts.

But we must be cautioned that we too can become as those to whom the Hebrew writer wrote. We can become dull of hearing (Hb 5:11). We can even be enticed to forsake our commitment by those religionists who surround and satisfy us with their theatrical concerts that excite experiential religiosity. We must not forget that experiential religiosity turns our focus from King Jesus to ourselves. Emotional subjectivism is a powerful motivation, and thus a powerful diversion from the power of the gospel.

[Next in series: Dec. 30]

Truth of the Gospel (B)

• A strike at the heart of the gospel: By establishing a legal system of theology by which some sought to meritoriously justify them through the keeping of law, an inherent problem arose among some of the disciples of the first century. This problem struck right at the heart of the gospel of grace. In fact, it was a denial of the gospel. It nullified the effect of the cross to transform lives. And in nullifying the effect of the gospel, some severed themselves from Christ.

At the time, the problem was so severe that the Holy Spirit had to inspire two documents (Romans and Galatians) to be written in order to deal with this matter, lest the church vanish into the maze of just some religion of the day that was based on theology.

Stated briefly, the two dissertations of Paul from the Holy Spirit were based on the inability of any person to live righteously according to law in a way whereby one could successfully justify himself before God through perfect keeping of law. Therefore, when a legal system of “the truth” (law) is developed to which one must conform perfectly in order to be self-justified, then grace is replaced with meritorious law-keeping, and thus, the justification of the cross is nullified. Those who were seeking to self-justify themselves through a theology of perfect law-keeping snubbed the justification that came from the incarnational offering of the Son of God on the cross.

In dealing with this problem that actually denied the grace of God and marginalized the cross, Paul eventually had to state clearly, “You are not under [meritorious keeping of] law, but under grace” (Rm 6:14). We must understand exactly what he meant in this statement in order to discover that “the truth” is not a systematic theology of self-justification or worship. On the contrary, it is the good news about the incarnational offering of the Lord Jesus Christ, His resurrection, ascension and present reign as King of kings (See 1 Co 15:1-4). “The truth” is about Him and what He did for us, not about what we do for Him through a certified system of self-justification. All this theology—all of which is only an organizational system of meritorious rites, rituals and ceremonies—is misleading. Such leads one from focusing exclusively on the cross and the imputed righteousness of God that is projected to everyone who obeys the gospel.

[Next in series: Dec. 27]

Truth of the gospel (A)

When Christians fail to do that which Peter, in his final words, admonished his readers to do—grow in our knowledge of the grace of God—we inadvertently set ourselves up for trouble (2 Pt 3:18). We must not forget that our faith is based on our belief that the gospel is historically true. The Son of God was incarnate into the flesh of man. This is true. He offered His incarnate body on a cross. This is rue. He was resurrected. This is true. He ascended into heaven. This is true. He is presently reigning as King of kings and Lord of lords. This is also true. This is the truth of the gospel.

But when we begin to forget these sacred truths, then we are in trouble. We forget by not understanding the truth of the gospel as we become infatuated with our own religiosity. And in order to protect our religiosity, there is only one thing that can be done. We must write some type of creed or catechism by which we begin to judge the faithfulness of the adherents to our favorite religion. In all this quagmire of religion, it is often difficult to restore a knowledge of the truth.

When everyone speaks the same thing, then everyone stops thinking. This is the curse of cults and religions. It is the fatal error of the social philosophy of Marxism. It is also the problem with the legalist who turns the New Testament into a catechism of self-justification through meritorious law-keeping. For the legalist, once all the statutes have been determined that must be obeyed, then everyone must stop thinking about any new statutes. Neither should anyone question those statutes that have been established to define are particular religious heritage. Unfortunately, in doing such we have not identified the church. We have defined a meritorious system of law-keeping that is contrary to the grace by which the church is saved. Again we have forgotten what the Holy Spirit declared: “For by grace you are saved through faith, and that not of yourselves” through any meritorious law-keeping (Ep 2:8). And again, “For you are not under law, but under grace” (Rm 6:14).

This is particularly true in reference to how we understand “the truth” of the gospel. Unfortunately, we sometimes define “the truth” to be a legal system of statutes by which we can justify ourselves as righteous before God, and thus be classified as those who are “of the truth.” We convince ourselves that after we have obediently performed “the truth” of our established statutes of meritorious law-keeping, we are then justified before God. By believing this, we have relegated ourselves to cultic religious behavior and actually submitted ourselves to a theology that is contrary to the gospel. We have stopped thinking, and subsequently, we have stopped studying our Bibles.

In our submission to “the truth,” we have failed to understand that the New Testament is not a document on law by which we would measure ourselves justified before God. It is a road map of instructions from a Father who seeks to prepare our hearts for heaven in our response to His Son. Contrary to “the truth” being a system of self-justifying laws, it is the gospel of the sacrificial offering, resurrection and reign of the incarnate Son of God. These historical events are true, and thus they are “the truth of the gospel.”

In the New Testament, “the truth” refers to the obedience of the incarnate Son of God on our behalf, not to something that we would be so presumptuous to do in order to put God in debt to save us (Rm 4:4). It is truth that He obediently performed on our behalf: “For it was fitting for Him [the Son of God], for whom are all things and by whom are all things, in bringing many sons to glory, to make the author of their salvation perfect through sufferings” (Hb 2:10). “And having been made perfect, He became the author of eternal salvation to all those who obey Him” (Hb 5:9).

Nevertheless, we have discovered over the years that many have established a legal system of religious behavior that is actually contrary to the truth of Jesus’ obedient behavior to go to the cross for our salvation. We have turned this gospel journey of Jesus into a legal system of laws that must be obeyed. Our legal response to His obedient sacrifice may arise out of a sincere desire “to do the will of God.” However, as we study through this matter in the New Testament, and when we come specifically to the document of Galatians, our legal response is actually “another gospel,” or as Paul reminded the Roman disciples, the establishment of a law of “sin and death.” In other words, if “the truth” is a meritorious system of law-keeping, and obedient self-justification thereof is necessary, then we have made “the truth” to stand in contrast to the gospel of grace that sets us free from meritorious law-keeping.

[Next in series: Dec. 24]

End of Political Opportunists

• The end game for unspiritual political opportunists (Jd 13): The descriptive conclusion and final end of those who would use their brethren as an opportunity for either financial gain or political goals is not bright. Jude was rich with metaphors as he defined the character and reward of these ungodly political insurrectionists who were in the fellowship of the church: “They are raging waves of the sea, foaming out their own shame; wandering starts for whom is reserved the blackness of darkness forever” (Jd 13).

The doxology of judgment of Jude 14-16 was first delivered to humanity by Enoch in reference to the flood of Noah’s day. It was the time before the flood when “God saw that the wickedness of man was great on the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” (Gn 6:5).

Every judgment of God in time is a metaphor of His final judgment at the end of time. But in the context of both Jude and Peter, a similar judgment in time was going to be released upon national Israel, which judgment was illustrated by the flood of Noah’s day. It was a judgment that was prophesied by Jesus in Matthew 24, and was to occur soon in the lives of those Jewish brethren to whom both Jude and Peter wrote.

As the A. D. 70 destruction of Jerusalem loomed just over the horizon, it was a time that the disciples of that time to be warned, or reminded of what Jesus had prophesied of the event forty years before (See Mt 24). It would be in the destruction of Jerusalem that the Lord would come in time “to execute judgment on all [unbelieving Jews], and to convict all who are ungodly among [the Jews] of all their ungodly deeds that they have committed in an ungodly way, and of all the harsh things that ungodly sinners have spoken against Him [the Lord Jesus Christ] (Jd 15).

Jude concluded with a description of how the Jewish nationalists among the brethren were politically seeking to recruit fellow Jewish friends and family members to take up arms against Rome. These insurrectionists spoke in secret of things they would do to bring down Roman domination in Palestine. They continually complained about how oppressive the Romans were. And thus they walked according to their desires to throw off Roman oppression. And in order to recruit fellow Jews to join them in the resistance, they made great promises of freedom from the tyrant in Rome. They behaved as good politicians by speaking “great swelling words, flattering people to gain advantage” (Jd 16).

If we could conclude Jude’s final words to the Jewish insurrectionists among the early church, it would be that brethren should never in any way behave as ungodly political leaders among the brethren. If one does such, he is as Paul stated in the following exhortation to the Corinthians, among whom some were behaving politically:

“For we dare not class or compare ourselves with those who commend themselves. But they, measuring themselves by themselves, and comparing themselves among themselves, are not wise” (2 Co 10:12).

A final exhortation was in order for the faithful. During times of social chaos—the times in which the innocent Christians of those years of Rome’s onslaught against Jewish insurrection—the faithful needed to remember who was in total control of all things. So as a reminder and encouragement for the faithful, Jude concluded with the following statement:

“To the only God our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory and majesty, dominion and power, before all time and now and forever. Amen (Jd 25).

[Series will continue.]

Blemishes

• Blemishes at the dinner table (Jd 12): Most of the time when the contexts of Jude and 2 Peter are considered, commentators want to take individuals that under consideration by both authors outside the fellowship of the church. But in these contexts, unbelievers are not directly under consideration. Both Jude and Peter are specific as to who is the problem. Jude identified these ungodly individuals as Christians: “These are spots in your love feast when they feast with you” (Jd 12). Unless we assume that these ungodly political activists were invited guests at the love feast/Lord’s supper of the church, then Jude was speaking of fellow brothers or sisters in Christ who were involved in some insurrectionists activity. At the time, these were in the very core of Christian fellowship, the love feast. They were sitting across the table and “feeding themselves without fear” of the reprisals of government and the impending destruction that was coming upon all those who would join the Jewish anarchist’s movement against Rome.

The Jewish insurrectionists who were promising “showers of blessings” when Palestine was delivered from Roman occupation, were dreamers who promised rain when they themselves were only empty clouds with political ambitions. They were like politicians who make great promises, but deliver no results when they are voted into office. In this case, they were recruiting among the membership of the Jewish disciples in order to stir up a rebellion against Rome.

These were those who were carried along by the populous vote of those who “speak evil of those things that they do not know” (Jd 10). Peter was more descriptive in identifying these misguided Jewish brethren: “They are stains and blemishes, carousing themselves with their own deceptions while they feast with you” (2 Pt 2:13).

And as all politically motivated individuals, their work in eating at the love feast was for the purpose of “enticing unstable souls” (2 Pt 2:14). But Peter warned those who would vote for these brute political beasts among the brethren: “These are wells without water, clouds and mists that are carried by a storm, for whom the black darkness has been reserved” (2 Pt 2:17; see 2 Th 1:6-9).

Now in those days, Paul wrote that “the Spirit clearly says that in the latter times [of national Israel], some will depart from the faith, giving heed to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons” (1 Tm 4:1).

Paul prophesied of the times about which both Peter and Jude lived and wrote. We have found that many would–be prophets today miss this critical point when they are deceiving the people concerning “end-of-time” prognostications. These false prophets forget that Paul, Peter and Jude, as well as James, were addressing Christians of their day who were about to endure tremendous social calamity. These New Testament writers did not skip over two thousand years of time in order to write concerning world events of our day. They simply did not steal from their immediate readers prophecies of social and political calamity that their readers would have to endure in just a few years after the inspired letters were written.

In fact, it seems quite inconceivable that some today would steal away warnings that were delivered directly to the early Christians in the first century in order that save their lives in not joining with the insurrectionists. As is so evident in the epistle of Jude, there were political Jewish brethren working among the early disciples in order to recruit volunteers. There were those who were recruiting volunteers to join in the resistance against Rome. If the faithful succumbed to the intimidation of the recruiters, then the possibility some would be killed in the coming destruction of A.D. 70. There are those today, however, who are persisted to be prophetic thieves in order to satisfy their own thirst to capture an innocent audience today who would follow their misleading prognostications.

“While they promise them liberty [from Roman oppression], they themselves [at the time Peter wrote] are the bondservants of corruption” (2 Pt 2:19). The Holy Spirit defined the characters in Paul’s letter to Timothy that they came among the early disciples, “speaking lies in hypocrisy, having their conscience seared with a hot iron” (1 Tm 4:2). This is as the corrupt false teacher who has concealed his personal corruption, while at the same time encourages the deceived populous to vote for him. In order to gain the vote of the people in order to continue his corruption, he must work with deceit lest the voting populous discover his true motives. Peter’s following conclusion is a description of the character of these individuals who existed among the brethren of his readership: “For if after they have escaped the pollutions of he world through the knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and overcome, the later end is worse for them than the beginning” (2 Pt 2:20).

The latter end is worse because the revealed gospel of grace no longer appealed to them. It no longer had any power to change their behavior because they had become as the Hebrew writer wrote in reference to his readers who lived at the same time, “We have many things to say, and hard to explain, seeing you have become dull of hearing” (Hb 5:11). Since these ungodly characters were using the innocent sheep of God, the church, as an opportunity to promote their political ambitions, they had turned away from the grace by which they were saved. If there were ever a clear statement to be made in Scripture that we should abhor such behavior in the church, the preceding statement of 2 Peter 2:20 would be the statement.

The ungodly practice of these political religionists was so grave that the Holy Spirit said that “it would have been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than having known it, to turn from the holy commandment [of the gospel of grace] delivered to them [through the preaching of the gospel](2 Pt 2:21). We can understand now why Peter exhorted his readers with the following statement: “Grow in the grace and the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Pt 3:18). Those who continue to grow in their understanding of the grace of God will be kept by God. Jude concluded, “Now to Him who is able to keep you from falling and to present you faultless before the presence of His glory with exceeding joy” (Jd 24).

[Next in series: Dec. 18]

Destiny Of Anarchists

• The destiny of political anarchists (Jd 11): Those who are quick to speak evil against those government officials with whom they disagree “have gone in the way of Cain,” one who murdered even his own brother (Jd 11). They are jealous to the point that they commit murder with the weapon of their news media posts and Twitter messages. They would encourage the violent insurrectionists of a society to threaten the families of those with whom they politically disagree. These are insurrectionists who march on streets and burn buildings, carrying placards that slander their government officials. They would slander with hateful and poisonous words in order to stir up those who feel politically marginalized, or those who simply suffer from a cultural inferiority complex. This is the “way of Cain,” who envied Abel, his brother.

Jude is not finished with these unspiritual zombies. “They run greedily after the error of Balaam or reward” (Jd 11). The Jewish Sadducees were the corporate magnates of Jude’s day, and the one’s about whom Jude may have been referring. At least these corporate rich were in the mind of James when he wrote that at the time both Peter and Jude addressed their epistles to those who were in danger of falling victim to the schemes of the rich: James asked the faithful, “Do not the rich oppress you and drag you into courts?” Therefore, James warned of the impending judgment that was coming on the rich Sadducean Jews who were evidently plotting tax relief through insurrection against Rome: “Come now you rich, weep and howl for your miseries that are coming upon you” (Js 5:1). This was an impending judgment upon the rich who were exploiting the poor. James was not discussing something that would transpire two thousand years later.

Nevertheless, we must not be fooled today, that in the political arena of democracies around the world, the ultimate goal of all politicians is money. Power is sought in order to be in control of the wealth of a nation. If one does not understand this, then he or she may be quite naive concerning the ambitions of many politicians who run for some office. There are those who seek to be true “civil servants,” but sometimes their proclamation from podiums to serve the people, is simply a cover for glory and gain. We have found in developing country democracies running for office to be a “civil servant” is not primary in the hearts of the would be politician. What is in his or her is money.

It the political West, it is now the corporations who contribute to the ambitions of the politicians who will govern according to the corporations’ desire to control the wealth of the country. Unfortunately, in Western democracies, politicians must conform to the desires of the corporations, for it is the corporations who make massive contributions to their favorite politician. Even if the politician would seek to be a true “civil servant,” he must bow to the money of the corporations in order to have his campaign financed. If the corporations want a politician voted out of power, then they will contribute massive funds to an opposition politician.

Add to this the news media corporations, to whom the business corporations also make large contributions. It would be correct to conclude that Western democracies are basically controlled by the money that originates from global corporations who manipulate politicians through contributions the money that are necessary for a politician to win an election. Therefore, the “error of Balaam” is not reserved only for individuals. If an individual would seek to be a politician, then he or she must often conform to the wishes of the corporations more than the voting constituency. Balaam became political when he preached against the people of God for the sake of money.

The voting constituency today is often controlled by the news media that is sustained either by massive contributions from the corporations who run their advertisements on each news media broadcast. People will be people, and thus, Jude’s indictment must not be confined to a first century social and economic upheaval in the Roman Empire. Money still controls who is in power. The insurrectionists then, as well as today, are following the money. In fighting against Rome, the Jews were seeking tax relief from the Empire. It was through massive taxes that supported the military that the Roman Empire continued to exist. When the taxes diminished, so did the Empire, which thing eventually came to fruition in A.D. 476 with the fall of the city of Rome.

But in reference to the times of Jude’s readers, those Jewish insurrectionists who participated in rebellion against the God-ordain authority of Moses “perish in the rebellion of Korah” (Jd 11). As Korah and his cohorts who rebelled against the authority of Moses were swallowed up by the earth, so would those who rebel against God’s ordained authority a the time Jude wrote, would be swallowed up by Rome in the destruction of Jerusalem (See Nm 16:1-3,31-35).

Rebellion against the Roman government authority would not go unpunished. It is estimated that about one million Jews perished in the destruction of Jerusalem in A. D. 70. Those who would perish today in such a rebellion, may not so perish directly in this life, but certainly they will when King Jesus comes with His fiery destruction of this world (2 Th 1:6-9). Insurrectionists will be destroyed from the presence of God because of their rebellious spirit in life that revealed that they were not candidates for heaven. In reference to any brother who would involved himself in such an insurrection, he would be a false prophet who was bringing forth bad fruit in the fellowship of the disciples.

[Next in series: Dec. 16]

Loss of Integrity & Dignity

LOSS OF INTEGRITY & DIGNITY
• Political anarchists have lost their integrity and dignity (Jd 9,10): They have certainly not followed the example of the chief angel of God, Michael. We have in this and Peter’s text the only reference to this event that took place sometime immediately after the death of Moses. “Michael the archangel, when contending with the devil and disputed about the body of Moses, dared not bring against him [the devil] a railing accusation” (Jd 9).

We have always found it quite interesting to note that there are those who are quick to condemn Caesar for some political misdemeanor that is inconsequential to the governance of a nation. In doing such, many political opponents have lost their moral integrity. Such people should be shamed by the example of Michael. Michael simply said to the devil, “I will not personally argue with you about this matter. It is not my place. ‘The Lord rebuke you’” (Jd 9). If we rail against those in government who have the responsibility to keep us safe, then we lose our integrity, if not the security of the nation in which we live.

We have discovered throughout the years that those who resent authority often lose their integrity and dignity by posting nonsense in the social news media in reference to “arguments about the body of Moses.” In reference to Christians, this would be an onslaught against “the faith.” Instead of defending the faith, some Christians are ravenous in their political proclamations about those things of which they have little knowledge. This was the case with those to whom both Peter and Jude wrote They are as Jude continued, “These speak evil of those things that they do not know” (Jd 10). In doing such they reveal their lack of integrity. They are as “brute beasts” who speak in a manner by which they corrupt themselves (Jd 10). They are as raging “bulls in a China closet,” destroying everything in their rampage in order to promote those things about which they know nothing. No Christian should be caught, either in speech or behavior, as a “brute beast” in the fellowship of the disciples.

Many years before Peter and Jude wrote their judgments against such “brute beasts” in the fellowship of the church, Jesus warned of such people who would come among His disciples: “Beware of false prophets who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves” (Mt 7:15). Jesus was not speaking about those who taught false doctrines, though the behavior of the wolves was based on that which is false. He spoke of those who would devour the sheep of God through their destructive speech and behavior.

Jesus continued to explain, “You will know them by their fruits” (Mt 7:16). Ravenous wolves would be known by their fruits, not by their teachings. This is the commentary of those about whom both Peter and Jude identified, at the time of their writing, who existed among the sheep. In Matthew 7, Jesus handed the early disciples a dictionary that would define the “false prophet” as one who would come in among the fellowship of the saints with his or her own hidden agenda. These would be those who would sit right there in the midst of the love feast, feeding themselves with the purpose of influencing grace-driven disciples with their own political or social ambitions. The readers of those times needed to remember what Jesus said: “A good tree cannot bring forth bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bring forth good fruit” (Mt 7:18). Unfortunately, some of the ravenous wolves must be among us long enough for them to reveal their bad fruit. They then can go out from us because they were not, as John wrote, of us (1 Jn 2:18,19). We must be careful in reference to what forest in which we dwell.

[Next in series: Dec. 14]

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